National Security


Once again, you're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Arun Rath. The FBI posted a short film on their website this week, a drama called "Game of Pawns. It tells the true story of Glenn Shriver, an American college student who was recruited as a spy for the Chinese government while studying abroad in Shanghai.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as Friend) It is the destiny of our two countries to stand together as partners and bring peace and prosperity to the world. That's why we would like to help you with your education.

RATH: "Game of Pawns" falls somewhere between a spy thriller and an after-school special. The target audience is college kids and the message is obvious. Don't be a spy.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as Glenn Shriver) There's an old Chinese proverb, life is like a game of chess, changing with each move, and the next move was mine.

RATH: The thinking behind "Game of Pawns" is that movies do a great job of reaching young people. For a peek into the world of FBI movie making, we turn to the film's screenwriter, Sean Paul Murphy. He says making movies for the FBI is quite a bit different from Hollywood.

SEAN PAUL MURPHY: Well, the biggest difference is that they really demand accuracy. And we do take some artistic liberties and mainly because we have to compress the story down quite a bit too.

RATH: Murphy says getting script notes from the FBI is much easier than dealing with Hollywood executives. And big personalities don't seem to be as much of a problem.

MURPHY: Generally, everybody's on the same page, and you're not being pulled in different directions by people's egos. And on this, everyone was pulling in the same direction.

RATH: Game of Pawns" is not Murphy's first film for the FBI.

MURPHY: I've also done a film called "Betrayed" about how to spot someone if they're possibly spying for an enemy. And I subsequently done one called "Company Man," about a true attempt stealing, you know, American trade secrets from a corporation.

RATH: I asked him what it was like to write what some would call FBI propaganda. He doesn't see it that way. It's really just writing with a message, something Murphy has been doing for a while.

MURPHY: A lot of my work, I've done a lot of, like, faith-based films. And generally the producers would want a purpose for those as well. So I really don't feel it's propaganda, in the sense that we are conveying an accurate story. Obviously, it's a story they want told.

RATH: There's been a fair amount of snark posted online about "Game of Pawns." It's been compared to old hygiene films and PSAs. Here's Glenn Shriver about to fall into the clutches of the Chinese government.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as Glenn Shriver) What exactly are you asking me?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (as character) Mr. Shriver, our economies are intertwined.

RATH: You might call it all a little bit cheesy.

MURPHY: Well, I don't think so at all. I think it actually has very decent production values. And I was reading some people were complaining about some cliched dialogue and some of the things that they cited as examples were things Glenn had actually said in the interview.

RATH: Sean Paul Murphy is a screenwriter based out of Baltimore. He wrote the script for the FBI's "Game of Pawns."


Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from